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Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores sues NFL and its teams, alleging racial discrimination

Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores on Feb. 2, commented on his racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL on CBS's "Mornings" show. (Video: CBS)

Brian Flores, who was fired last month as coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the National Football League and its teams, accusing them of discriminating against Black coaches in their hiring practices and denying them equal opportunity and pay compared with their White counterparts.

The lawsuit is a stinging public rebuke by a prominent Black coach of the NFL, which for years has said hiring more Black candidates to senior coaching and executive positions was a major goal for a league in which approximately 70 percent of the players are Black. The NFL’s own senior executives have lamented the lack of diversity among the coaching ranks, and Flores’s charges come as diversity and equitable hiring practices have become a hot-button issue across the country.

Flores says in the complaint that he was subjected to “sham” interviews as teams sought to satisfy league rules to interview minority candidates before making hires. This offseason, the league has had nine head coaching vacancies. So far, four have been filled — all by White candidates.

“Even when Black candidates get hired for Head Coaching positions, a rarity, they are discriminated against in connection with the terms and conditions of their employment and compensation and terminated even as far less successful white Head Coaches are retained,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, Black Head Coaches are far less likely than white Head Coaches to receive second chances even as white Head Coaches are routinely hired by Teams even after they fail elsewhere.”

Flores’s decision to go to court is an extraordinary action, as NFL coaches rarely publicly criticize the league’s mixed diversity record. Flores acknowledged it could jeopardize his future in a game “that I love and has done much for my family and me.”

“My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come,” Flores said in a statement released by his attorneys.

Senior NFL official: ‘Double standard’ for Black coaches when it comes to keeping jobs

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, cites the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Dolphins but also lists the 29 other “John Doe teams” as potential defendants.

“As described throughout this Class Action Complaint, the NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers,” the lawsuit says. “Over the years, the NFL and its 32-member organizations … have been given every chance to do the right thing. Rules have been implemented, promises made — but nothing has changed. In fact, the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”

The NFL and the teams named in the lawsuit denied the allegations.

“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the league said in a statement. “Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

Flores was a candidate for the Giants’ coaching job, but they instead hired Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who is White, for the job last week. In the complaint, Flores says the Giants put him through a “sham interview” process “that was held for no reason other than for the Giants to demonstrate falsely … that [they were] in compliance with the Rooney Rule,” a league directive that requires teams to interview minority candidates for all senior vacancies.

Three days before Flores’s scheduled interview with the Giants on Jan. 27, the complaint states, he inadvertently received a text message from New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick that seemed to indicate the Giants had already settled on Daboll. “Sorry--I [messed] this up. I double checked and misread the text. I think they are naming Brian Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB,” the message read, according to the complaint.

Flores and Daboll are former Patriots assistants.

The Giants said in a statement: “The fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour. Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach.”

Flores was fired Jan. 10 by the Dolphins after his second straight winning season. He was one of three Black head coaches in the NFL this season. There is now one, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, after the firings of Flores by the Dolphins and David Culley by the Houston Texans.

The lawsuit alleges Flores refused a “directive” from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to “tank” — or lose games on purpose — during the 2019 season in a bid to secure the top pick in the draft. Ross offered to pay Flores $100,000 per defeat, according to the lawsuit. Flores also balked at Ross’s efforts to influence him to recruit a “prominent quarterback” from another team, in violation of NFL tampering rules, following the 2019 season, the lawsuit alleges, adding that Ross invited Flores to lunch on a yacht and tried to arrange for a meeting with the quarterback at the marina.

Flores “was ostracized” after that, the lawsuit says, while adding: “He was subsequently defamed throughout the media and the League as he was labeled by the Dolphins brass as someone who was difficult to work with. This is reflective of an all too familiar ‘angry black man’ stigma that is often casted upon Black men who are strong in their morals and convictions while white men are coined as passionate for those very same attributes.”

The Dolphins said they “vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization. The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect.”

The lawsuit alleges that in a 2019 interview with the Broncos, team executives, including John Elway and Joe Ellis, arrived an hour late and “looked completely disheveled,” making it “obvious that they had been drinking heavily the night before.” It was clear, the lawsuit says, that Flores “was interviewed only because of the Rooney Rule, and that the Broncos never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job.” Denver ultimately hired Vic Fangio, who was fired last month after three seasons.

The Broncos called Flores’s assertions “blatantly false.” Their January 2019 interview with him “began promptly at the scheduled time,” the Broncos said, adding, “Our process was thorough and fair to determine the most qualified candidate for our head coaching position.”

Flores, 40, was raised in New York; his parents were from Honduras. He played football at Boston College and joined the Patriots in 2004 as a scouting assistant. He worked his way up to being Belichick’s de facto defensive coordinator before being hired by the Dolphins as their head coach in 2019. The Dolphins had a 5-11 record in Flores’s first season but went 10-6 and then 9-8 in the past two seasons. They won seven straight games following a 1-7 start this season but missed the playoffs for a third straight year under Flores.

Flores’s lawsuit says it is a proposed class action for Black coaches and it seeks injunctive relief to increase the diversity within the league.

“On the first day of Black History Month, it is our great privilege to represent Brian Flores in his class action complaint against the NFL,” Flores’s attorneys, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, said in a statement. “This case seeks to level the playing field in the hope that future owners and coaches will be representative of the athletes who are playing this great game. We fully expect coaches and players of all races to support Brian as he embarks on his journey to create positive change.”

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